Evan Warfel has an excellent comment on a post of Andrew Gelman's. Reproduced in full:
Perhaps we are teaching statistics backwards. Instead of teaching students to try and come up with the correct result, we could teach what it feels like to rationalize one’s way through to non-objectivity.
A final exam question might go: This dataset consists of 5 completely uncorrelated variables — I’ve labeled the columns as ‘weight of cat’, ‘probability of attrition’, ‘color of cat [in RGB]’, ‘current age of subject’ and ‘SAT verbal score’. Find a way to make 3 statistically significant correlations and one non-significant correlation. You get an extra point for each spurious t-test you can come up with. The catch is that your entire analysis has to form part of a coherent story. Bonus points go to the 5 most concise answers.
(Obscure title reference explained [Spotify link])
1. The current love-fest, remindful of the opening of the Berlin Wall, will soon end and something in the range between disillusionment and xenophobia will set in. Like the post-reunification hangover, really, only on steroids, coke and speed.
2. Family reunification legislation (Familienzusammenführung) will be severely tightened within the next three years.
2. Family reunification legislation (Familienzusammenführung) will be severely tightened within the next three years.
Let's start with the example: In the U.S., high-SES people used to smoke more than low-SES people until about 1965. Then the lines crossed, once, and they never crossed again. These days, there are many high-SES people that you don't have to tell about health risks: to them, smoking is prole. And who wants to be prole?
More generally, there are many behaviours that low-SES people show more frequently than low-SES people, and vice-versa. Why? Let me propose a two-step model. First, there is some initial reason why a certain behaviour is shown more often by low-SES people. Then, the behaviour becomes associated with being low SES. Then, the behaviour is reduced even more by high-SES people.
Smoking is, I think, a good example. Initially, high-SES people may have had access to better information, or have been better at processing the information, or had more self-control, or have put a higher value on health, or what have you, or all of the above. This created an initial smoking gap. This helped associate smoking with being prole. This, in turn, caused people who don't want to be seen as prole to smoke less.
In some cases, the reason for the initial reason could simply be chance.
The model implies that SES differences in smoking were easier to explain in terms of the psychological factors mentioned above (more self-control, etc.) in 1970 than today. Generalizing this is left as an exercise to the reader.
1. Have sex with him when he wants to.
2. Don't question his respectability.
It seems to me these are the two rules that are true for almost every man, and at the same time are specific to keeping your man happy, rather than keeping your spouse happy.
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
Philip Carlo, The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract KillerOverjoyed, yet slightly appalled that Richard would even think of, let alone do, such a thing, the man gave him ten thousand dollars for the contract, and a second ten thousand dollars for the incredible suffering the mark had experienced."You did a good job," he said. Richard liked to please his customers; that was how his business had grown over the years.
Economics, Sociology, Extrinsic and Intrinsic Motivation, and Variance, or, Advice for the Tribal Social Scientist
Someone whose name I've forgotten said that economics is all about how people act rationally and sociology is all about how they don't. That's catchy, but not very helful, because it makes you think about the exact meaning of the term "rational", and before you know it, you're writing a book. Let me propose instead (and of course I'm using the broad brush here) that economics is how people are driven by extrinsic motivation and sociology is about how they're driven by intrinsic motivation.
Of course, people are driven by both, so a good social scientist should consider both. But there's more to be said about the two. Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are functional equivalents, and the less variance there is in one of the two, the more variance in your dependent variable the other is going to explain.
That's a little abstract, so here's an example. For the purposes of the example, please accept the simplification that the two types of motivation are completely independent of each other.
Consider a company unit in which variance in intrinsic work motivation is low, and the mean is also low - that is, everybody's a lazy bastard. Then variance in extrinsic motivation will explain a lot of variance in behaviour. That is, those who have a higher incentive, such as financial rewards, to work, will work harder, while those that have little incentive will work little (high variance, middling mean).
Now consider a company unit in which variance in intrinsic work motivation is low, and the mean is high. Here, everyone will work hard (low variance, high mean), and differences in incentives will have little effect.
Next, start by thinking about extrinsic motivation. If extrinsic motivation's variance is low with a low mean (everyone gets minimum wage, regardless), then how hard people work will be driven by their intrinsic motivation (high variance, middling mean).
Finally, if extrinsic motivation's variance is low with a high mean, everyone will try hard (low variance, high mean).
What does that leave us with? First, if variance in one independent variable is lower, then variance in the other dependent variable will explain more of the variance in the dependent variable. Admittedly, that's a mathematical necessity, and not a new insight. More specifically, it means that economists who want to stick it to the guys in the other building had better select topics where variance in people's intrinsic motivation is low, while sociologists who want to teach those arrogant dicks in the Adam Smith building a lesson should select reasearch areas in which variance in people's extrinsic motivation is low.
And if you own a company, you ought to put a lot of time into selecting people with high intrinsic work motivation, and also think hard about how to taylor rewards to employees' behaviour. You'll want to do both, because you'll be perfect at neither.
I've only read the first two volumes so far, but here's the best answer I've yet seen to the question Why is Knausgaard so great - when really, with all the detail and mundane plotlines, he should be boring:
The answer lies not in Knausgaard’s depth of revelation so much as the intensity of focus he brings to the subject of his life. He seems to punch a hole in the wall between the writer and reader, breaking through to a form of micro-realism and emotional authenticity that makes other novels seem contrived, “made up”, irrelevant. As [Zadie] Smith put it: “You live his life with him. You don’t simply ‘identify’ with the character, effectively you ‘become’ them.”
There's so much talk about literature's ability to put the reader in someone else's head - this is often portrayed as the feature that most differentiates writing from other forms of art, and Steven Pinker even singled out the increase in putting-yourself-in-other-people's-heads caused by the invention of the printing press as the trigger that started the long-term decline in violence ca. 1500-2000. I've read a fair bit of fiction and some memoirs, but have never seen anyone doing it like Knausgaard does.
In this short presentation on "Genetics and Society" (video), Gregory Cochran points out an obvious incompatability between human capital theory and empirical findings in behaviour genetics: Human capital theory proceeds as though differences in human capital were solely the product of environmental influences, and especially decisions made by parents, but this is known to be false. Cochran goes on to say this has an impact on a point made in human capital theory concerning the quality-quantity tradeoff: The standard view is that you can have many kids and low investment per kid, leading to relatively low human capital in each kid, or you can have many kids, invest heavily in them, and expect them to exhibit high human capital. To the extent that human capital is influenced by genetics, and to the extent that it is not influenced by parents, this tradeoff does not exist. For example, IQ shows practically no response to differences in parental behaviour, hence your kids' expected IQ is independent from your investments, hence independent from the number of kids you have.
But that's a normative point. Empirically, how much people plan to invest in their kids and how many kids they hence choose to have, should be influenced not by the truth itself, but by what people believe to be true. Belief in genetic influences on people's characteristics decreased ca. 1920-1950 and is now low. While research results from the 1970s onwards have shown the popular view to be wrong, these results are not widely known and believed. Hence, decreases in the number of kids people have might still in part be explained by the above-mentioned aspect of human capital theory, if it is combined with the Thomas theorem: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences."
Models of human decision-making are just that: models, not the real thing. Another way to put this is to say that models are wrong. As the famous saying goes, all models are wrong, but some are useful. This leads to the question, useful for what? That is, just because a model is useful in one domain, doesn't mean it's useful in another domain.
Case in point: economists. Traditionally, they have been working with a model of rational, egoistic decision-makers. Pretty much everybody knows that model is wrong because people sometimes act altruistically, but the model is useful model for many purposes. The trouble starts when people forget that it's just a model that is supposed to be good for some purposes (and not others) and start to defend the model as though it were an entirely accurate description - a view that obviously does not conform to the empirical evidence.
Bryan Caplan is not one of those people. He points out that altruism is real. Anticipating counter-arguments, he adds:
Sure, true believers in ubiquitous selfishness can grasp at straws to protect their dogma. Perhaps people donate blood for the free cookie, join the army because they might run for office one day, or give to charity in order to make business connections. Or maybe millions of average joes are clueless enough to believe that the blood supply, the safety of the free world, and the availability of charity hinge on whatever they personally choose to do.
Anything is possible, but that doesn't mean that anything is plausible. [...] Genuine altruism is all around us. Benevolence doesn't explain why bakers bake bread for paying customers, but it does explain why blood donors give blood to strangers for free.
Naturally, this prompts his readers to double down on the altruism-is-really-egoism stuff. For example, his reader Caliban Darklock writes:
I suggest that if there exists an incentive, the activity is not altruistic.
If I give a person $10 for drugs, and then I take the drugs and they give me an endorphin rush, that is not altruistic.
If I give a person $10 because it makes me feel good about myself, which gives me an endorphin rush, how is that altruistic?
I traded $10 for an endorphin rush either way. What is the rational distinction between them?
This is generally known as the "warm glow" argument: If you give money to charity, for example, you get a positive feeling ("warm glow") in return. A counterargument to this comes from Jon Elster (cited from memory): If you could raise your future utility by taking a pill that erases all your altruistic motivations, would you do it? Probably not, because you think it would induce you to do things that are morally wrong.
Antoher counterargument that I've just though up: If, for example, giving a person $ 10 makes you feel good about yourself, this already presupposes you're an alturist. If you weren't, it wouldn't make you feel good about yourself. That is, the argument presupposes what it tries to disprove. I guess philosophers have a name for this; I don't.
I'm a fan of the right to keep and bear arms. But I prefer unarmed police and restricted gun rights to strong gun rights combined with a police force that regularly shoots civilians 'by accident'.
This is in the context of a discussion that uses the U.S. as an example of a country where cops bear arms as a default and New Zealand as an example of a country where they don't. The danger of police carrying guns is readily apparent given recent events and discussions about them in the U.S.: if they have guns, cops might use them all too often. I'm guessing a comparison of death by cop statistics between New Zealand and the U.S. would support that view.
But there's another important variable: the availability of guns to citizens. Apparently (based on information in the thread I link to above), it is pretty limited in NZ, whereas in some U.S. states, any Tom, Dick and Harry can buy a gun. Let me submit the theory that this is what really counts. I'm basing this view on a third data point: Germany. Here, cops routinely carry guns. If you play your music too loud at 10.01 p.m., the cops you'll find knocking on your door will be carrying fully loaded pistols. And yet, in 2011, police fired only 85 bullets while on duty (presumably not counting training), of which 49 were warning shots and 36 aimed at people; 15 people were injured and 6 killed. The numbers for 2010 were 96, 59, 37, 17 and 7, respectively.
Let me wildly generalize from that small heap of data and assumptions: When the probability is high that the other person has a gun, police will be quick to shoot. Part of this is split-second rational(ish) decision making, but there is also a wider institutional context in which this occurs - such as police guidelines about when to shoot and where to aim. The way to reduce police killings of citizens is hence to make it hard for citizens to bear arms.
Men are often startled when, without any warning, their dearly beloved suddenly asks “What are you thinking about right now?”
Naturally, the last thing a man should give is a truthful answer. Endless trouble will ensue if the man innocently replies: “Having sex with your best friend”. Therefore, in the unaccustomed role of agony uncle, I would suggest that men prepare a response in advance, and trot it out when required.
Good advice. Although, in honesty, I can remember only one time when I was the recipient of that clichéd question. To which I answered, thruthfully, "I was thinking, 'Should I ever get rich, it would be nice to have a separate room to put a pool table in'". That taught her, I guess.
What happens to me more often is that people think I'm looking at something specific, when actually I'm just staring into undefined space, usually reflecting on what was just said. (I'm not particularly quick.) With some delight I've noticed that a colleague of mine has memorized this as a characteristic of mine after I'd repeatedly explained to her that, no I wasn't looking at her shoes, I was just thinking, and my eyeballs have to point somewhere. I know she's memorized this as she recently started saying something about how I was probably hungry, the way I was looking at her meal, oh, no, wait, I was probably just thinking, right? That'll come in handy the next time she starts thinking I'm staring at her tits, when I'm actually, you know, staring at her tits. They're lovely, and I can't help it.
Ich habe zwar noch nie was von Jojo Moyes gelesen, vermute aber, dass mir das nicht gefallen würde. Ich beurteile Bücher nämlich gern nach ihrem Umschlag. Die werden schließlich nicht nach dem Zufallsprinzip zugeteilt.